By now you’ve heard the statistics and felt the effects of the streaming era for yourself. Almost 40,000 songs are added to Spotify every day, and entire albums from high-profile artists quickly find their way onto the Hot 100 upon release. But despite the deluge of new music in the digital era, we’ve actually seen plenty of older records work their way up the charts in the months (and years) after their initial release.

“The vast majority of songs, 99 percent of them, are new to more people than they are not, whether they came out last Friday or a year ago,” says John Fleckenstesin, co-president of RCA Records. “It’s a matter of what kind of context and drivers can you put around something to get somebody’s attention that day that is going to be compelling.”

While the path to success can seem formulaic right now, it’s a lot easier to say “make something go viral” than it is to engineer organic virality, and while the term “Spotify-core” has been coined to describe a certain kind of genre-mush pop, making music with the sole purpose of reaching playlists is an uncertain gamble.

“Spotify is a black box. You can’t make music hoping to get on playlists. If that’s your only plan then 99 percent of the time you’re going to be ass out,” says Clayton Blaha, a music industry veteran and manager of Matt Maeson, whose 2016 song “Cringe” peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Alternative Chart this August.

To examine the many ways a song can find itself peaking long after its release, we explore the data and the stories behind the success of five recent slow-burning hits that all succeeded in different ways.

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